By Benjamin Herrold
On Sunday, Missouri’s athletic department made official what fans had long suspected, announcing that basketball coach Kim Anderson had been asked to step down after three seasons at the helm.
It felt inevitable for much of this dismal season, but it was still a sad day. This was Anderson’s dream job, he was a tremendous player at Missouri, and he is by all accounts a very nice man in a business with some less-than-nice characters. But it just didn’t work, and so athletic director Jim Sterk and Anderson put together the most graceful exit possible, given the circumstances.
Most recently, those circumstances included an 89-78 loss at Auburn, Missouri’s 35th straight road loss. The defeat capped a third straight dismal regular season, somehow even less successful than the first two under Anderson.
After a nine-win season and a 10-win season, both of which included last-place 3-15 Southeastern Conference finishes, Missouri wrapped up this regular season at 7-23 and 2-16 in SEC play, again taking the last-place seed in the conference tournament.
It’s the first time Missouri has ever finished last in conference play three seasons in a row.
It was tough sledding for Anderson, going from a Division II school to a major-conference program, one that had already slipped three years in a row, dealt with a lot of roster turnover and was in the middle of NCAA violations. The punishment from those hurt Anderson’s recruiting, and he spent much of his first two seasons suspending players who seemed to have endless character and commitment issues. A roster worth of players transferred or were dismissed in his brief tenure. In this last season, he seemed to get some players he really liked, guys who played hard and really seemed to want to succeed.
But it wasn’t enough. No matter how challenging the situation, Anderson needed to secure better players and win more games. Even a few more would’ve bought him more time. The league isn’t as bad at it sometimes gets portrayed, but there were wins to be had in the SEC. And nonconference losses to North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipscomb were unthinkable for this program a few years ago.
First, Anderson gets a sendoff coaching the team in the SEC Tournament in Nashville. Missouri plays 11-seed Auburn on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. on SEC Network). On the off chance the Tigers would keep winning, they’d continue playing at 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network against 6-seed Ole Miss on Thursday and 3-seed Arkansas on Friday.
Of course, Missouri is also diving into another coaching search. Plenty of names have been and will be tossed about, from experienced coaches like Tom Cream, Kelvin Sampson and Cuonzo Martin, to up-and-comers like Kevin Keatts at UNC-Wilmington and Dan Muller at Illinois State.
It’s hard to know which direction Missouri will go, but if I’ve learned anything from the previous four Missouri basketball coaching searches since Norm Stewart retired, this should be entertaining.